Hard or Easy: Which Task Should You Tackle First?

By Ryan Douglas

We’ve been told the same productivity advice for years – work on the hardest tasks first to achieve your goals. While this approach is fine for some people, others need a small warm-up before tackling their biggest challenges. Today’s article looks at the unexpected benefits of starting small and being productive.  

Smaller Commitments Improve Your Odds

Let’s face it – taking on a big task sometimes feels overwhelming. Not just physically, but mentally as well. Thinking about the entirety of a big decision can make your heart race and mind begin drifting into the unknown.

“Where do I start?”

“How do I know if I’m doing it right?”

“What if I screw up?!”

These types of thoughts are debilitating and serve no purpose in reaching your goal. Just the opposite. Feelings of self-doubt are often enough to make you want to quit before you’ve even begun.

A perfect illustration of how the biggest challenge in getting started – is getting started.

Yet, once you begin, finishing a task is like most any other goal in life. Once in motion, the finish line gets clearer. Momentum becomes the sustaining force that keeps you moving forward. And the only way to get it is by taking action.

So how do we overcome the anxiety of walking that first step? Simple – start small.

Choose an item that you can knock out quickly (with little effort) to gain some traction. An easy win to make progress and help you get “in the groove.” If you were exercising, this would be your warm-up. Getting your muscles loose and prepared for the heavy lifting that’s yet to come.

Keeping in mind that if you hurt yourself working out, your gains come to a halt. Bruising your confidence means the same thing in regard to productivity.

Traditional advice says to “go big” and take on the largest challenge of the day first.  Yet, most of us have limited willpower and tend to get overwhelmed quickly. Which means we stop whatever we’re doing and feel worse afterward (because nothing was accomplished).

Starting small lowers the threshold for taking action and requires less effort to get moving. Which makes whatever you’re trying to accomplish more likely to happen.

And the trend of small wins is continuing to gain acceptance. Even productivity expert and best-selling author Michael Hyatt says easier tasks should come first. Citing many of the same reasons discussed in this article.

That’s what makes apps like Elisi so valuable. Our weekly based to-do list helps you achieve higher productivity while still maintaining balance. The intuitive interface allows you to track important practices (like meditation, exercise, and water intake), along with project information and personal notes.

Best of all, tasks are displayed in a way that encourages you to take action (rather than punishing you for not). Small steps add up – and Elisi helps you take more of them.

However, if you want to go big sometimes that’s okay too. There’s no rule saying you have to choose one or the other. Both strategies are useful depending on your confidence, energy level, and current state of mind.

Worst case scenario, if you go big and things don’t work out, you can always scale back and try again. Just don’t butt your head into the wall every time or you’ll run out of motivation.

Easier Tasks Produce Emotional Wins

Starting small isn’t just good for productivity, it nourishes your body and mind as well. Completing a handful of minor tasks gives you the emotional “lift” necessary to take on bigger challenges. A compounding effect which continues to feed itself over time.

And let’s not forget the incredible benefits to your brain also.

Research has shown that accomplishing a goal releases dopamine. A powerful neurotransmitter that controls feelings of pleasure, reward, and emotional satisfaction. All of which are key elements of productivity.  

Increased dopamine improves focus, memory power, and elevates your mood.  By improving focus, you’re able to concentrate longer and harder on the task at hand. Strengthening memory power helps you retain what you’ve learned and recall information faster when you need it. Elevating your mood provides the motivation to get started and the drive needed to keep going.

Working on tough projects first can produce the opposite – generating stress while leaving you physically and mentally drained. Causing you to lose motivation and have nothing left for other tasks.

Studies have shown that chronic stress suppresses dopamine production and causes an array of harmful side effects. Including anxiety, depression, and lack of energy.

With dopamine, feeling better about completing tasks isn’t just in your head – it’s an actual physical response. A compelling argument for why small wins can lead to big victories.

Increased Confidence Equals Higher Productivity

One of the best parts of knocking smaller to-do items off your list first is how it increases overall confidence. With each task completed, you prove to yourself (and others) that making progress and achieving your goals is possible.

Which, in turn, leads to taking on bigger challenges that may have previously seemed impossible. Confidence becomes the lubrication that keeps the wheels of productivity moving. Helping you to become bolder and more efficient in everything that you do.

Projects that were once scary don’t seem so intimidating afterward.

With larger projects, the opposite is often true. Stalling or failing to make progress erodes confidence and makes you shy away from future challenges. You doubt your ability to produce results and pull back because of it.

And if you’ve come up short too many times in a row, you might give up entirely.

Conclusion

When it comes to productivity, there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. As long as you are continually moving toward your goals. While some choose to tackle the entire mountain first, others feel more comfortable starting out with a short hike.

And that’s okay.   

Because getting a series of small wins can be just as powerful as overcoming a major obstacle. As long as you keep your eyes on the prize, you can increase focus, motivation, and confidence as you work toward your goals.

All without the stress of taking on too much at once, or the shame of not finishing it afterward. Now that’s something to get excited about.

Looking for a more human way to accomplish your goals?

Sign up for your FREE Elisi account and get started today.

Elisi Studio

Personal Time-management System 4: How to Make a Plan? (3/3)

(By Elisi Studio)

Why do we recommend a weekly plan?

Let’s use a road trip as an analogy:

  • The annual plan is like determining a destination
  • The monthly plan can be seen as a GPS, helping us to choose the best route
  • The weekly plan is like a steering wheel; only by constantly adjusting it can we avoid going off track
  • And the daily plan is the gas pedal; a good one can speed us to our destination.

Instead of focusing on completing a daily plan, we recommend you look beyond to the weekly plan to see the big picture, which is also within your control.

Let’s start with the weekly plan—not because the monthly plan and the annual plan are not good; it’s just that when our planning ability is still rudimentary, it’s less frustrating to start from the weekly plan and proceed step by step, instead of overstretching.

How to make a weekly plan?

Prepare a sheet of A4 paper or just Excel. Of course, we recommend that you try the Elisi Web version or the Elisi Mac App to plan ahead.

Our weekly planning is divided into three steps:

  1. List all this week’s to-do task
  2. Put these tasks into your planner, according to the rules of Importance and Urgency
  3. Self-motivate, assess, and summarize.

Let’s use the Elisi Web/Elisi Mac App as a template to explain how to make a weekly plan.

1. List all this week’s to-do tasks: use the Notes section on the left.  

First, take a few minutes to recall and write down everything you want or need to do next week. Be sure that you don’t resist these things. When your motivation is low, forcing yourself to persist makes it easy to fail, thus increasing your frustration.

Then, follow the Importance Rule from the Four-Quadrant Working Method (find it in Elisi Inspiration Week 3) to delete irrelevant tasks before you begin.

After deleting, allocate time to the remaining tasks. For example, this week you plan to read a 300-page novel and read 50 pages per day, which usually takes 1-2 hours, or just dozens of minutes if you read fast. At this point, we need to use the self-time record (find it in Elisi Inspiration Week 1) to get a basic understanding of how you are spending your time, and then estimate a time for each task you plan to do.

Check how much time is needed in total to complete all the tasks that remain after the first deletion. If the time required exceeds your available weekly time, you will need to do a second round of deleting. For example, if the planned tasks need 50 hours, but you have only 30 hours per week apart from work, you have to delete 20 hours’ worth of tasks.

2. Put tasks into the planner according to the Rules of Importance and Urgency. 

After two deletions, now let’s list all remaining tasks on different days in the upcoming week according to the Urgency Rule from the Four-Quadrant Working Method (find it in Elisi Inspiration Week 3):

  • Single tasks and urgent tasks can be listed on the first few days in the “Planner”
  • Long-term tasks (such as reading or learning a foreign language) can be added to the “Habit” and an average time assigned to them each day
  • Related tasks can be classified into a “Project” and then scheduled to be completed on a different day.

In this way, your mission this week will be scientifically arranged for every day.

3. Self-motivation, assessment and summarization. 

When you add tasks to Elisi’s daily Planner, you will see a round gray badge on Elisi’s daily Planner Bar; and on Elisi’s bottom tab bar, you will see a Weekly Achievement Trophy. Each day, when you complete 3 tasks (no matter whether it’s a single task or multiple tasks under Project and Habit), you will get that day’s badge, and a segment of the Weekly Achievement Trophy will be lit as well.

Every time you harvest a daily badge, reward yourself by doing something relaxing and entertaining. That means that when you are working on other tasks, you know that there will be fun rewards waiting for you.

In addition, you can select different stickers in front of each task to record the quality of the outcome; that is, whether you are happy enough with your results. If you are not satisfied, write some retrospective comments in the “To-do Details” to help you make progress next time. Of course, when you enjoy completing a task very well, you can also write down insights to help yourself sustain a good trend.

At the beginning, we all miscalculate the time spent on doing things due to lack of expertise: overestimating ourselves or arranging to do too few things are all normal behaviors, and you will improve as long as you don’t blame yourself excessively and dent your enthusiasm.

Now the plan is ready. How can it be carried out? Let’s talk about Concentration Management in our Time Management Series in future Elisi Inspiration.

50 Things to Boost your Happiness (2/2)

26. Treat yourself to the most wanted gifts you can afford.

27. Reject something that you have been hesitating over or feel restricted by.

28. Decorate your room, or simply re-paint the wall with your favorite color.

29. Discard, sell, or donate items you haven’t used for more than one year.

30. Ask for repayment of a debt that someone owes you.

31. Stick to a small task every day, such as learning a foreign language, playing the piano, and meditation. (Try Elisi Habits!)

32. Go to a concert or a live music venue.

33. Follow the restaurant reviews and try a delicious new food every month.

34. Plan and begin a new project. (Why not with Elisi Project?)

35. Learn to swim!

36. Plant something and watch it flourish and flower.

37. Watch some classic TV shows and old movies that you used to like.

38. When you have some free moments, sit and meditate for a while.

39. Put on your favorite old clothes and go to a grassy space and bask in the sun.

40. Go to an amusement park and go on exciting rides.

41. Upgrade your home network and clean up your computer files.

42. Go for a walk by the sea or by the water.

43. Find a safe way to do a challenging activity that you have never tried before, such as skydiving, hang gliding, or diving.

44. Learn to bake and make some cookies or cakes for your nearest and dearest.

45. Visit an exhibition or a museum.

46. Teach your parents some new skills, such as how to take good photos on their mobile phone or how to manage their life with Elisi, and make some small gifts for them.

47. When you finish the day’s work, take a hot bath and fall asleep truly relaxed.

48. Go shopping when you are feeling relatively affluent.

49. Take friends and families to the countryside for camping and picnics.

50. Write down three small things every day with Elisi that make you happy, and read them at any time!

(By Elisi Studio)

Personal Time-management System 3: How to Make a Plan (2/3)

By Elisi Studio

Last week we introduced some rational ideas of what a plan can provide us and what we can learn from Google’s OKR system. This week we will continue to discuss more methods we can use in making a plan.

First, the SMART Principle.

This was proposed by the management master Peter Drucker and first appeared in his book “The Practice of Management” in 1954. Since the SMART Principle was proposed, it has been regarded as the classic rule of goal formulation.

What is the SMART Principle?

1.The goal must be Specific. To achieve a goal, your plan needs to be clear. Sometimes an uncompleted plan is not due to weak implementation, but because the goal itself is not clear enough. Only a clear indication of the target you want to achieve can be an appropriate goal. For example, someone who wants to lose weight needs to change “I want to be thin” to the specific “I want to lose 20 pounds.” That clarifies the goal.

2.The goal must be Measurable. Your goal should be observable, objective, and measurable. For example, people who write articles can use reading volume or their fee as a measurement, rather than simply say, “I am very satisfied with this article,” to comfort themselves.

3.The goal must be Attainable. This is quite easy to understand. For example, for a new graduate who has just begun to write, the goal of producing a bestseller within a month is likely not practical. Of course, we must also be alert to the drawback of this principle, as moderate challenges are also necessary.

4.A goal must be Relevant to other goals. In general, a big goal for most of us is to be a better “self.” Learning some general life skills, such as time management and personal finance management, are basically goals common to everyone. Other more professionally relevant or specialized knowledge, like advanced mathematics, though important for some, are not things everyone needs to learn.

5.The goal must be clearly Time-bound. When does the work start? What time should it end? When do you reach the key point in the plan?

The above five characteristics are indispensable in making a SMART plan.

Another method we will introduce is especially useful in dealing with unplanned tasks.

A colleague asks for help to print a document. A supervisor suddenly assigns an urgent task. It seems that whenever we want to stay focused and eager to continue and advance as planned, there are a variety of intrusions on our time. Some of these sudden tasks are really important, but we can say that probably 80% are trivial and irrelevant.

First, we need to gain an understanding of the unplanned tasks: how many are internal disturbances and how many are external disturbances?

For example, after working for 10 minutes, we suddenly need to use the bathroom. Or after less than half an hour, you suddenly feel thirsty and hungry.

These are internal interferences, and we can simply address these needs by setting aside time in our plan to be disturbed, so that we will not feel upset once our schedule is broken up by a small change.

But for external interference, when things involve other people, it is not as simple.

Here we introduce the Four-Quadrant Working Method, a time-management theory proposed by American management scientist Franklin Covey.

Covey divides work into two dimensions—important and urgent—and then further divides these into four quadrants:

First quadrant: both urgent and important, such as essential tasks that carry an expiration date or time.

Second quadrant: important but not urgent, such as establishing a relationship with someone.

Third quadrant: urgent but not important, such as an unexpected visit.

Fourth quadrant: neither urgent nor important, such as surfing the Internet and watching videos.

Don’t rush to complete sudden unexpected tasks. Use the four-quadrant rule to first classify them and put them into your plan or to-do list: If it is urgent, do it; if not urgent, then wait until you finish your planned work. It’s like setting up an early-warning mechanism so that these tasks won’t knock you off course when they come. Instead, you prioritize issues that are really urgent and important.

We are unconsciously caught in the trap of “low-level effort” sometimes, spending a lot of time dealing with chores and being led by them. Use the four-quadrant rule flexibly to get rid of inefficiency. See you in next week’s Elisi Inspiration!

50 Things to Boost Your Happiness (1/2)

1. Take a weekend trip or a short holiday—go, see, and eat!

2. Buy some flowers and put them in a prominent place at home.

3. Clean your room and change the sheets, quilts, and pillows.

4. Rearrange your furniture; place a new carpet in the room.

5. Buy a projector and a Bluetooth speaker, and watch a movie at home.

6. Try some fresh, new perfumes.

7. Turn off your phone before going to bed and read a book before sleep.

8. On a diet or after exercising, allow yourself a cheat day to enjoy food.

9. Plan a long trip. Choose the route, browse the attractions, and make an itinerary.

10. Visit a crowded supermarket and feel the buzz of being surrounded by many people.

11. Wash your clothes, dry, fold, and stack them.

12. Choose a light-to-use mop or vacuum cleaner and clean the floor.

13. Gather a few friends together to play cards or other games, and have dinner.

14. Go for a bike ride and discover different scenery.

15. Take photos of family or friends, print them out, and put them in a photo frame.

16. Get in touch with old friends you haven’t contacted for a long time. Chat about current events, work, feelings—and even gossip.

17. Climb to the top of a building or a hill and look down.

18. Choose a comfortable pen and a beautiful notebook, or write down your mood with a handy app. (Ummm… Elisi Notes!)

19. Play an interactive game like a room escape, a live CS, or a go-kart with your friends.

20. Share a drink with your loved one using two straws at the same time.

21. Make some simple dishes and give yourself a nutritious meal.

22. Carefully comb your pet’s body once.

23. Buy some comfortable sportswear, put on your headphones, and choose a favorite route to jog.

24. Go to a club and dance with your friends.

25. Clean up your email and delete apps that you haven’t used for a long time.

Personal Time-Management System 2: How to Make a Plan (1/3)

By Elisi Studio

After you have a general idea of how your time was spent (refer to last week’s Elisi Inspiration post about recording), you can make a personal plan relevant to your own time-management ability and preference.

Since plans can’t always keep up with changes and it takes time to make the plan itself, some people may ask why we need a plan. Others recognize its importance, but their plans look “perfect” and are difficult to implement. Too many unplanned things just pop up.

Here we describe three misunderstandings and three benefits of making a plan to help you rationally understand the planning process.

Misunderstanding #1: Plans are not adjustable. Many of us think that once the plan is made, it must be strictly followed. A slight violation means that the plan fails. In fact, the plan is like an outline, giving us the goal and direction. In practice, we also need to constantly optimize and adjust our plans.

Misunderstanding #2: Making a plan is a waste of time. We specifically recorded the time spent planning over the past week: an average of less than 30 minutes per day. Compared to the time wasted on unplanned tasks, these 30 minutes are definitely a cost-effective investment.

Misunderstanding #3: Ignore the importance of execution. The goal of making a plan is to implement systems and complete tasks better, but many people are addicted to the improvement of the plan itself and forget to take action.

The benefits of making a plan can also be easily summarized into the following three points.

Benefit #1: Make the future predictable. Because of the plan, we have certain psychological preparation for what may happen in the future.

Benefit #2: Release anxiety. The more things we have to do and the more fragmented things are, the more likely we are to feel anxious. Write down a to-do list, acknowledge to yourself that you have listed all tasks, and then don’t worry about it. This list means you can review things you need to do and ease your anxiety.

Benefit #3: Your subconscious will supervise you to improve efficiency. Even if the same person does the same task on different days, the time consumed will be different. You can read a newspaper in 10 minutes, or stare at it the whole morning and kill your time. If we have a plan, the deadlines will urge us to complete tasks and thus improve our work efficiency.

Now that we have an idea of what plans can do for us, we can explore how to make a plan.

For most of us, the to-do list is the most basic method of planning: the plan for the next day is recorded the night before, and the next day is scheduled hour by hour.

The problem with to-do lists is that planning short-term tasks is relatively easy, but when it comes to planning tasks that take weeks or months to complete, the to-do list is too vague. So we use other tricks along with to-do lists for more efficient use of our time.

Trick #1: OKR, Google’s goal system

OKR is Google’s internal ranking system for employees’ objectives and results. OKR means Objectives and Key Results.

Simply speaking, every employee of Google sets one objective or a set of objectives for each quarter and then measures the key results. Each person’s OKR must be published on the company’s website and can be viewed by everyone. If anyone does not achieve their objective, it is clear at a glance.

At the end of the quarter, there is a target score for objective completion. The score is between 0 and 1—all completed is 1 and all unfinished is 0.

If you always have a score of 1, don’t rush to celebrate. Your execution may be effective, but it is probably because your objectives are too easy and not challenging. A reasonable score is between 0.7 and 0.8.

There are three essential lessons we can learn from OKR:

  1. Turn the goal attention into process attention.
  2. Create a monitoring mechanism.
  3. Develop a feedback mechanism.

In addition to OKR, are there any other easy ways to get started?

We will introduce SMART and the Four-Quadrant Working Method in Elisi Inspiration 3, and we will address how to deal with unplanned tasks.

9 Steps to Make a Perfect Travel Plan

1. Time and budget

Your time and budget set the limits for your travel plans. Knowing how long for and when you can travel define the time frame. That frame shows how far you can go and what places could be the best choices. Then, your budget defines how much you can spend, which serves as a restriction and an alarm when you figure out the details of your travel plan.

2. Where do you want to go?

After thinking about time and budget, now you have to pick your destination(s). You could start with a list of the places you want to go to and see whether your time frame overlaps with the best time to visit any of them. If you have several choices, pondering the following questions may help.

Where do you want to go to the most but you can’t wait for another opportunity? Where fits best into you time frame and budget? Are there any special events in any of the places on your list that you may not be able to experience again if you miss this opportunity?

If there is still more than one option left, try throwing a dice! Since the options remaining weigh the same to you, just see where fortune leads you.

3. Gather information

If your destination is somewhere you have never been to, gathering information about it is a must. You can start with the local official travel website, which will list the must-go-and-see places and special events and activities. Then, you can go deeper by looking at the travel blogs. Some bloggers are professional travellers who share their experience covering all the aspects of travel. You can definitely learn a lot from them. Beside doing your own searching, do not forget your friends. Their first-hand experience could be a great reference for you.

4. Draw up a list of places and activities and fit them into an itinerary

Once you have enough information from the previous step, you can draw up a list of places and activities you are interested in. You may find it helpful to note your priorities as well as the best times to do things (like when places are open). This will help you to narrow things down and indicated the best way to manage your time. Now, it should be just a piece of cake to work out an itinerary.

5. Do your “math” and make your choice

Things may get a little tricky if you’ve filled up your itinerary but some things have been left out. You may want to double-check your priorities to see whether you’ve picked the best places and activities.

However, you may still struggle even if the priorities look good. Like, if you have 10 items with the highest priorities but your time allows you to fit 8 in at most. Be ruthless, because often it is impossible and unrealistic to experience everything on the same trip. Make your choice and stick to it.

6. Sort out the basics

With a sound itinerary at hand, your next step is to confirm transportation and accommodation. Of course, you know how to book travel tickets and hotels, but please always bear a couple of things in mind.

First, safety is everything. Find an online local safety map and do some research before deciding where to stay. Accommodation can be pricey, but you don’t want to sacrifice your safety just to go somewhere cheap. Second, keep an eye on time. If you fly to your destination, when will you land? How long will it take you to get from your hotel or Airbnb to where you want to visit? Do any of your reservations have a specific check-in time or require an early arrival?

7. Prepare thoroughly

Start preparing about one or two weeks in advance. Sort out all your tickets and vouchers for redemption. Carefully read the instructions so that you don’t miss anything important, like restrictions. Don’t forget to check the weather forecast, since that affects what to wear, where you can go and what you can do. Some activities rely heavily on the weather, so you may want to consider alternatives if the forecast looks really bad. By the way, pay attention to cancellation fees and policies for your tickets and vouchers in case you need to make any last-minute changes. Also think about what clothes, medicines, and cash to take and any tools you need, like a camera, chargers, etc. Good preparation can make your travel go like clockwork.

8. Do not forget the local culture

“Culture” sounds like a big macroscopic topic. However, culture can really be a challenge for travelers. If you go to another country without knowing the basics of its culture, you may be surprised and embarrassed when you find that an unconscious gesture offends the local people. Even if you are traveling within your own country, you may still experience some cultural differences. Therefore, no matter where you are going, always do some homework on the culture thing.

9. Relax and have fun

Congratulations! You have done a great job and your travel plan is pretty solid. There is no need to review it back and forth or worry about any unexpected surprises. Travel is a great way to reward yourself for your hard work and to create wonderful memories with your friends or family. Your next and final step is to relax and have fun. Safe travels!

Let’s start your travel plan today with Elisi!

By Elisi Studio

Personal Time-Management System 1: Record Yourself

Welcome to Elisi Inspiration!

Here, we will discuss topics on how to effortlessly make you and your life better, week by week.

We hope you will find some inspirational thoughts from Elisi Inspiration and join us to explore more insights and tricks for a cheerful and comfortable life.

Our first several weeks are about how to build your personal time-management system.

How do you record and distribute your day? How do you focus? How do you use your fragmented time? How do you motivate yourself in a long-term task?

Let’s see what we can find for our first week’s inspiration.

Personal Time-management System 1: Record Yourself

Before we manage our time, we need to know where we spend it – that’s why recording is necessary.

Recording mainly helps us in two ways:
1. To form a habit – recording can help us plan future tasks and review past ones.
2. To understand personal ability and limit of time control – people have different levels of time control, time use, emotional condition, and energy. If we overestimate or underestimate ourselves, we can sometimes frustrate ourselves with uncompleted goals.

We’d should not follow someone who continuously works 12 hours per day: and we should not be inspired by their story, copy their schedule directly to our calendar, and imagine an upgraded one for ourselves. That usually does not work.

We need to know ourselves.

So, how?

Former Soviet entomologist Alexander Alexandrovich Lyubishchev created a time-recording method in 1916, when he was 26, which is still used by people today. The main point is to only record your effective time:
• Record pure working hours without including chats and coffee breaks.
• Accurately record working hours. Subjective activities, such as meeting people and thinking about life, should not be counted.
• Choose the recording method that suits you – you do not have to pursue perfection of your form of recording.
• The recording error of a one-hour task does not exceed 15 minutes, as over-reporting only comforts you without accurately recording and truly understanding your time.

A two-week recording is usually enough to know where our time goes to. During these two weeks, take notes the following things everyday:
1. Total attention span
2. Attention span on a single task
3. How many easy tasks have been done
4. How many complicated tasks have been done
5. In these completed tasks, how many are you interested in

After having a rough idea of how you spend your time, now, you can make a plan for your tasks. Let’s talk about how to make an effective plan during our next week at Elisi Inspiration.

By Elisi Studio

Honestly, Saving Bucks Is Not That Hard

Have you ever been discouraged by the high down payment on a house or the cost of that car you’ve been wanting for a long time? Have you been depressed by the slow or even negative growth of the number in your savings account?

While nowadays, our minds tend to get derailed by the impulse to seek pleasure, it’s not surprising that even highly paid workers complain about how hard it is to save money. However, despite the fact that the cost of living has grown rapidly in recent years, has the ability to save money become a fortress that can’t be attacked?

Honestly, it hasn’t.

Attitude takes the lead

Before discussing methods, we need to correct our attitude toward saving. There is no doubt that saving money requires strong resistance to desire. The difference between success and failure lies in how we treat this resisting process. If you regard it as torture, your mind will be totally engrossed with the idea of hardship, which will prevent you from clearly seeing the long-term benefits—and will definitely hinder you in pursuing them. But this scenario can be completely reversed when you become aware of how saving money enhances your capacity for self-control and leads you to a better life.

Remember the famous marshmallow experiment? The kids who succeeded in resisting temptation for 15 minutes got a bonus—two marshmallows instead of one. Your bonus for resisting temptation on a daily basis would be far larger than that. Maybe a house, a car, or sufficient funds to travel around the world, start a business, and support your children through a top-tier college. When you aim at how much you can get from resisting, you get a purpose for saving those bucks, leading to accumulation and self-development, not torture.

You track, you learn

Once your attitude is on the right track, you can start preparing. The first rule, the one that comes before everything else, is never spend more than you earn. Many people don’t take this seriously, as it seems so simple and like something “everyone knows.” However, this is exactly where people fall down. To observe that rule requires you to check and compare your expenses and income continuously, not just each month or once a year. You can rob February’s budget to pay January’s extra expenses, but you just delay your financial crisis, not solve it.

With the top rule rooted in your mind, the next step is to build your personal balance sheet. Set up a new spreadsheet with an encouraging file name like “See how I become a money saver.” You can set up your accounting cycle based on your pay cycle or any fixed period you wish. The key elements on your sheet include expenses, income, and balance. Under expenses and income, there should be different categories for what you spend money on and what your income sources are.

Besides the above three key elements, you should also add an extra line/column for notes. At the end of each accounting cycle, skim through the sheet and note anything you find worthy of attention, alert, and praise. As you review the sheet, evaluate your financial performance and you’ll start to learn how to do better in the future. This process will have you making improvements and moving toward your goal.

If building a spreadsheet isn’t your preferred method, try an accounting app that serves the same purpose. Choose your means, and do your job.

Time to save

Okay, we finally come to SAVING.

When it comes to saving and where to direct those funds, we have more than one choice. You can put your money in the hands of investment professionals and wait for returns. You may also consider investing in real estate, which is often a safe bet compared with other complicated financial products. However, all these options require that you have the necessary funds already. Those who are just starting out on their own or are trying to play catch-up have more limited choices, but you must start by saving from every penny you earn.

Your plan should begin with a real savings account, which you cannot use for daily expenses. To make it more conspicuous, you can give it a nickname indicating its future use, like “My first house.” Every time you see that name, you’ll be reminded of your goal, your intention, and the efforts you’ve made along the way. Together, these tactics help fuel your determination and defeat the impulse to spend that can rise out of nowhere.

To put money into that account, you can go with either a fixed or flexible amount. As the name implies, the former option requires you to save a fixed amount of money within each accounting cycle. Take a look at your personal balance sheet, and set up a number that is reasonable for you. Let’s say you earn $5,000 a month and you believe you’ll be able to set aside about a fifth of that each month. What you want to bear in mind is that you have to put that $1,000 under expenses, so that the money you’ve saved is out of reach, making it no different from what you’ve spent.

If you’d prefer to add a little novelty to your savings journey, you have some flexibility. There are, after all, 52 weeks in a year. Try this: Clip 52 pieces of paper and mark each with a different number from 10 to 520 (in increments of 10). Put them in a jar, and draw one each week—that number is the amount you’ll save that week. So if you draw 30, then you save $30 that week. If you’d prefer to start from 100 and increase by 5, go for it! The point here is to set a goal and meet it. Don’t forget to mark the amount you save as an expense on your spreadsheet or in your app.

Hey, look ahead

Envision the future. You’ll no longer be frustrated with saving money because you know saving is for the sake of a better life. You’ll keep improving your financial performance with what you learn from your detailed balance sheet. You’ll hold on tight to your goal and never let your savings account skip a beat. And one day the money in that account will fulfill its purpose.

You are ready to start from this moment because now you know that saving is not that hard. Start your personal plans with Elisi today!

By Elisi Studio